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Cunliffe: Making a difference for refugees

Cunliffe: - Making a difference for refugees

Hon David Cunliffe
Minister of Immigration

Refugees are a living testimony to how this country has always made a stand on the international stage on matters of humanitarian concern.

National Refugee Resettlement Forum
Hamilton Kingsgate Hotel

Good morning, Tena koutou katoa, warm greetings.

It is a pleasure to be here today at this forum.


Bob Simcock, Hamilton Mayor ; Rick Towle, newly appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Representative – Canberra; Denis Nihill, International Organisation of Migration (IOM); Refugee participants from around New Zealand; Government officials representing a number of agencies that form part of the whole of government support for refugee resettlement; Service providers/ agencies that support refugee resettlement from around New Zealand and from Hamilton, with a particular mention to representatives of young refugees present here.

I also wish to acknowledge the importance of Hamilton as a city of many ethnic communities and the very effective refugee and migrant centre here.

Building on this, I am also pleased to see that the recent Budget provided $2.4 million in new operating funding over four years to the Office of Ethnic Affairs that will allow it to expand its successful Ethnic Advisory Service to Hamilton.

New Zealand and its international commitments

We are here because refugees are important to New Zealand and to New Zealanders – refugees are a living testimony to how this country has always made a stand on the international stage on matters of humanitarian concern.

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Since 1979, our small nation has provided almost 20,000 refugees from 43 nationalities as well as stateless persons with the opportunity for a new and happier life.

As one of only 17 countries in the world that offer a permanent home to refugees in need of resettlement, New Zealand has a record to be proud of. We are internationally recognised for these efforts.

We should be stating our contribution boldly. We should not be defensive when domestic critics say we should not be accepting refugees. Indeed, the calibre of many of the refugees I have met in New Zealand indicates to me that they will make a lasting contribution to our country, and are highly motivated to do so.

Our contribution to alleviating world refugee crises is not limited to offering resettlement places. On a bipartisan basis, New Zealand also supports family reunification of refugees already in this country and offers international protection to successful asylum seekers claiming refugee status on our shores.

This year New Zealand has acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which is managed by the UNHCR.

New Zealand further contributes to alleviating the plight of refugees offshore.

Our contribution to the UNHCR was doubled last year from NZ$1.8 million to NZ$3.6 million.

This year, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has contributed US$10,000 towards UNHCR's costs to complete a registration exercise of the camps in Nepal.

NZAID has also contributed $1.5 million to the World Food Programme for those displaced by conflict in Darfur and Sudan

As you know, this year, New Zealand has increased its engagement with the UNHCR refugee resettlement process by chairing the Refugee Resettlement Working Group that meets in Geneva

The New Zealand Settlement Strategy

Gone are the days when we accepted refugees into New Zealand but gave them little help once they had completed the basic induction into the Kiwi way of life at the Mangere centre.

We have stepped up to the mark in fully supporting refugee resettlement in New Zealand.

We recognise that many refugees and their families have high needs when they arrive here and may take more time to settle than other migrants.

In 2004, the Labour-led Government launched the New Zealand Settlement Strategy with a $62 million Budget package to implement it.

This budget package has greatly stepped up funding for initiatives to support RMS Refugee Resettlement, the provision of ESOL in schools and funded places for refugee adult ESOL learners, careers advice and information, and refugee qualifications assessment. I know there has been good progress on the implementation of these initiatives.

A number of government agencies involved at the policy and operational levels for effective settlement and are represented here today – the Department of Labour, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education, Housing New Zealand Corporation, Tertiary Education Commission, Office of Ethnic Affairs and the Ministry of Youth Development to name most.

And I would like to acknowledge the government agencies that have also stepped up to the mark in supporting refugees and their families through the challenges of starting a new life in a new land and through the trauma of having to leave a homeland and loved ones behind

The budget increase in funding to RMS Refugee Resettlement has enabled this agency to provide better end-to-end services supporting Quota refugees during the initial orientation at the Mangere Refugee Reception Centre and providing ongoing follow-up support during the first year as families settle into their new communities.

The Government also funds other NGOs that support refugee resettlement through the provision of specialist health services, ESOL services, employment programmes, community capacity building, and advocacy.

And I especially acknowledge the work of the many NGOs here today that assist with interpreting services, counselling and health services, ESOL and education services. Your support, and that of your volunteers in many cases, is important to refugee resettlement

Whole-of-government long-term action plan

Since the last forum in Auckland a year ago, Cabinet has approved a whole-of-government long-term Settlement National Action Plan involving 17 central government agencies. This Action Plan and the revised New Zealand Settlement Strategy will be launched in July.

Some examples of individual actions that support positive settlement outcomes for refugees include:

The Creating Pathways and Building Life (CaPaBl) initiative to improve career education, information and guidance for students, particularly those at risk of not successfully transitioning to further education. This project also provides extra funding for career planning, specifically for refugee students.

Housing New Zealand has rolled out "housing surgeries" in regions with refugee communities, supported by interpreters to enhance refugees' awareness and understanding of housing processes, arrangements, rent payment, maintenance, tenancy issues – all issues attached to living in a house in New Zealand.

The Government has recognised that resettlement for refugees requires good policy so that services on the ground are appropriate and workable.

My officials are working on a review of the refugee resettlement policy to provide a common direction at national level to support the ongoing collaboration by government, regional, non-government and communities in refugee resettlement.

I know you had a discussion on this point yesterday and I look forward to the outcome of the further consultations my officials are undertaking with the sector.

Access to information and services

The New Zealand Settlement Strategy is also about enhancing access to settlement information and support services. The 19 New Zealand Settlement Support initiatives around the country that focus on better co-ordinated delivery of settlement advice and information at a local level are now established, and are being implemented in collaboration with local city councils and settlement support agencies

The Settlement Support New Zealand initiative provides refugees and their families with a clear point of contact, specialist settlement information and improved access to mainstream services. This initiative is available to refugees after their time with RMS and will make a significant difference to local collaboration and joint local planning for settlement support.

Regional responsiveness

In January, I launched the Auckland Regional Settlement Strategy and its associated Action Plan. Many of the initiatives in the Auckland Settlement Action Plan support good refugee resettlement outcomes. My officials are currently working with local government in the Wellington region to develop a Wellington Regional Settlement Strategy.

I am pleased to see an increased collaboration occurring between central government and actors at the local level. This is reflected in the debates you are having in this Forum about the role of Regional Refugee Resettlement Forums and the positive flow-on effect this will have in terms of planning for refugee resettlement in the regions.

An example of initiative under the Auckland Settlement Action Plan is the Youth Transition Service for young people in Waitakere, which was launched in March by Hon Steve Maharey, Youth Affairs Minister. This is the first service out of a total of 14 services which will be rolled out by 2007. The Youth Transition Service is funded through the Ministry of Social Development and implemented in partnership with the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs. The funding:

Provides at-risk youth with access to career planning and job-seeking help;

Encourages and assists youth to take advantage of education and training opportunities; and

Provides school-leavers with customised support and guidance to facilitate their pathway into work, education or training.

A unique engagement model

The Settlement Secretariat established with funding from the New Zealand Settlement Strategy Budget Package provides coordination and information sharing services to all stakeholders involved in refugee work

The Settlement Secretariat facilitates the NRRF consultation meetings with refugees on behalf of central government agencies. These consultations have enabled the direct contribution of refugees in the further development of settlement initiatives and policies. This is a unique approach and an important distinguishing factor from the approach of other nations to settlement work.

Strengthening Refugee Voices

The Strengthening Refugee Voices initiative is currently being established in the main refugee resettlement areas of Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington (and soon, Christchurch), and is progressing well.

This initiative provides a collective voice and cohesive refugee input to government consultations. It provides funding of $250,000 a year to refugee groups to enable them to meet and discuss their issues and look for ways forward for those issues. The meetings are at an inter-community level – for example, not just the Somali community or the Ethiopian community but across all refugee communities. Sometimes the issues are at a national level and sometimes at a local level.

The important thing is not just saying there is a problem, but by finding a solution by discussing it and learning how it is dealt with by other groups facing similar issues elsewhere in the country.

The National Refugee Resettlement Forum that we're at today is the best example of all these voices coming together as a collective voice. It allows them to provide input at the local level and this will only increase over time.

Refugee youth focus

The reality is that for many refugees, their future is their children. Young refugees can be a vulnerable group (as young people are in any society)

Refugee youth issues are increasingly important, in particular in regards to employment and pathways to employment, and inter-generational and cultural tensions. I am aware of refugee and migrant youth being caught up in youth gangs in South, Central and West Auckland.

Today's discussions and workshops will be focusing on refugee youth to ensure that young refugees are settled well and quickly on a pathway to their new lives in New Zealand.

I look forward to receiving a report back from the young refugee representative with a summary of issues discussed so far at their meeting yesterday morning. I am keen to see these discussions lead to practical actions that will make a difference.

The resettlement process – a two-way process

This Labour-led Government acknowledges that refugees bring a lot to this country.

We are a country that is committed to ensuring that refugees and their families settle well, and we want New Zealand to be a country which welcomes newcomers and provides a safe and peaceful place to live, especially when so many of you have experienced difficult times in your own countries.

We want to build a nation which is strong and inclusive, has shared values, and shares the same vision for the future direction of our country.

There are many examples of individual refugees who are contributing to New Zealand through mainstream service providers. There are refugees who are employed in central government, for example in the Department of Labour and the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and district health boards.

There are more within the various NGOs – too many to list and we don't want to single out individuals – and in civic society organisations such as the Change Makers Forum, based at the grass roots, that represent the refugee community. These individuals provide a leadership role model for others and a model of integration and contribution to our society.

Refugee resettlement is a two-way process - refugees also need to understand, accept and embrace the values and way of life of their new home country

Settlement is a process and it takes time. A lot has been put in place already and I know that the engagement at this type of Forum will help the Government continue making a difference for refugees coming to New Zealand in the future

I understand you have prepared a summary of your key thoughts and issues to present today and I look forward to hearing this

I wish you well for the rest of the conference.

Kia Ora koutou

Thank you.

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